June 17, 2024
Zooey Deschanel on her new show — and the $15 grocery-store price tag she couldn’t stomach

Zooey Deschanel on her new show — and the $15 grocery-store price tag she couldn’t stomach

Zooey Deschanel wants to make sure you’re not mentally checked out the next time you fill up a shopping cart, whether in a store or online. 

“The New Girl” star’s latest gig is an unscripted series that just dropped on the Warner Bros.–owned WBD, +3.16% streaming service formerly known as HBO Max (now Max) called “What Am I Eating? With Zooey Deschanel.” The six episodes seek to solve everyday food dilemmas that shoppers are facing, like whether it pays to spend the extra cash buying organic produce over nonorganic fruits and veggies, or how to sort through which of the many, many milks and dairy alternatives are best for you and your budget. 

“I don’t like the idea that healthy eating is a privilege and not a right,” Deschanel told MarketWatch in a recent interview. “I think it should be everyone’s right to be able to eat healthy.”

“‘I don’t like the idea that healthy eating is a privilege and not a right.’”

And her new series comes at a critical time, as shoppers have seen grocery prices and other everyday items spike over the past couple of years once the U.S. economy, and others around the world, began to recover from the initial pandemic shock. Prices for food at home were up 7.1% in April compared with a year before, and low-income families are facing record-high food insecurity. So it’s not surprising that many of us often resort to buying what’s cheap or what’s familiar — often not the healthiest option. 

Read more: Grocery prices are rising more slowly, but food insecurity is surging among low-income Americans

Solving this problem is something Deschanel, 43 and a mother of two, has been passionate about for years. In fact, the new Max series grew out of a show she did with media company ATTN: called “Your Food’s Roots.”

“It wasn’t like [‘What Am I Eating? With Zooey Deschanel’] was a show that was pitched to me,” she said. “It was something I was deeply involved in for a long time before this.” 

In fact, Deschanel has co-founded two companies devoted to giving more people access to healthy food. One is Lettuce Grow, launched in 2017, which sells customizable hydroponic systems to farm fresh vegetables at home. The initial investment, at $350 or so, can, however, be a bit pricey. So Deschanel also co-founded Merryfield, a free app that helps make healthier food options less expensive. Users scan their grocery store receipts after shopping, and they earn rewards for buying items from Merryfield’s roster of dozens of better-for-you partner brands. These products won’t contain artificial colors, artificial flavors, high-fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils, for example. 

MarketWatch chatted with Deschanel about her new show, and got her tips on how to shop healthier without putting all of your money where your mouth is — just in time for the Memorial Day weekend. Here are edited excerpts from that conversation.

MarketWatch: So what got you involved in parsing through food myths and simplifying what to buy at the supermarket? Was there a particular food-shopping question or dilemma that really helped sell this concept to you? 

Deschanel: It was when I was pregnant with my first [kid] that I started becoming really curious about what I was eating, where it came from. I was eating for two, and getting ready to feed my own family, and trying to figure out the healthiest way to do that. They were all just questions that came out of that. … How can we be inspired to be the healthiest eaters we can be, and also enjoy our food, while also making connections and creating community through food? And I learn so much every time I meet a chef or a baker or a farmer. 

MarketWatch: Now that you’ve done this series and learned all of these facts and myths around what we eat, is there a food or grocery-store item that maybe you used to buy all the time, that this show got you to toss or to swap out for something else? [Some products that the first few episodes of the series recommends include swapping out canola oil for grapeseed oil or peanut oil to get some healthy fats, for example, or using ghee — a type of clarified butter — over regular U.S. table butter.] 

Deschanel: I think it’s definitely expanded what I buy, more than it has limited it. I can’t think of anything I bought all the time that now I’m like, “Ew, no, I don’t buy that.” It actually introduced me to a lot of things … that I think is such an asset as a home cook. It does really inspire me to eat in a very conscious way and a very sustainable way, and to know what I’m buying and where it’s from. 

Zooey Deschanel, seen on “What Am I Eating? With Zooey Deschanel” streaming on Max, gets to the root of where our food comes from.

Warner Bros. Discovery

MarketWatch: How does having kids complicate following all of these shopping tips you’ve picked up on, and do you have any advice for other parents out there? Groceries are getting very expensive, and of course kids are expensive, too.

Deschanel: Food democratization is extremely important to me, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m interested in all of this. Groceries are expensive. And that is definitely not lost on me. But I think the more we start being curious about our food, asking questions about our food, and going for those better-for-you brands as much as possible, we’re able to actually drive those prices down. The more demand there is for healthy food, then the supply will go up and the cost will go down. So I believe that if we’re all going for those things, then more companies will come into fruition to fulfill those needs, as well. 

“‘Groceries are expensive. And that is definitely not lost on me.’ ”

But in terms of kids, my kids are extremely picky. I can’t say like, “Oh my kids eat broccoli all the time and love it, because I decided that we’re gonna like it.” They still eat kid foods. No judgment there, because I certainly order pizza for my kids sometimes [laughs.] I think the best thing with kids is to try and involve them in the process of making food at home. Instead of ordering pizza, making the pizza yourself. It’s fun. They like it. They can expand their palate and see what they like and don’t like, what they want to put on their pizza.

MarketWatch: One thing that came up in the first episode on fats and oils is that it may be worth spending a little extra money on cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, because there are so many benefits to it. What are some other purchases or services that you’ve come to realize it’s better to pay a little more for, because it’s really worth investing in the quality? Or, what are some hard passes you won’t splurge on?

Deschanel: I think a lot of that has to do with personal preference. I can’t tell somebody what they should or shouldn’t do. From a health perspective, we do know that some foods, some nonorganic foods, have more pesticides and herbicides on them than others. You can look them up, they’re called the “Dirty Dozen” [listed by the Environmental Working Group], so if you can, try to buy those organic. And then there’s the “Clean 15” — those are ones that generally they don’t find as many of these chemicals on them, so those are safer to buy non-organic. I certainly don’t buy everything organic, myself … but definitely the “Dirty Dozen,” I buy organic.

But if you have some special thing you want from a special market, go spend that money. But don’t just pile stuff in your cart and not think about it. Like, one time I put something in my cart, and then I realized they were charging $15 for pomegranate seeds, and I was like, “Wait, no, that is not money I want to spend!”

MarketWatch: Any other money-saving tips? 

Deschanel: Here’s another hack; in my opinion, a big, big hack. I love buying coffee at the local [coffee shop], but not doing that every day saves you a lot of money. I make cold brew at home. It tastes great. There’s so many things that we spend a lot of money on, not realizing too how certain things are easy to make at home, and you can have fun making them at home. 

There’s coupons. There’s certain stores that tend to have better prices. I might go to three different markets a week, and there’s one that’s a lot less expensive, and there’s one that’s medium — I’m not going to name their names! — but I’ll try to buy as much as I can at the lower-price market, and a lot of times find a lot of great stuff there.

MarketWatch: What’s the best piece of financial advice you ever got? Something you really still live by today? 

Deschanel: This isn’t advice somebody gave me. I just find this to be a very good practice: Think about what you spend the most money on, and try to spend no money on it for a month or something, or however long you think you can, and then see how you feel. 

Because I actually did that this year … I tend to spend too much money on clothes. And for two months, I didn’t shop. I wouldn’t even let myself buy anything clothing-wise, even stuff I knew I needed. And it actually, totally changed my perspective, because before that, I kept thinking, “Oh I need this, I need this.” And by the end of this cleanse, I actually was like, “Oh, I actually need less, and I want to give away stuff.” It totally changed my perspective on want and need, and actually made me want to have less. And made me really understand that I really didn’t need a lot of the stuff I was buying. 

Or subscriptions! I think we could all look through our subscriptions. You can accidentally subscribe to things and you’re like wait … why do I have, like, a thousand bottles of almond milk or something? I accidentally signed up for a subscription like three months go, and now I have like a thousand [laughs]. I misjudged how much I needed. Looking at it, you can make it like a little fun game. 

So I think having those little periodical cleanses with the things that you kind of maybe spend a little too much money on is always a good thing. Just give yourself a little audit and see, like, “How much am I spending on that thing?” 


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